The plant grows from 15 to 50 cm (6 to 20 inches) high, depending on the variety. The smaller one grows very close to the ground, spreading out along it. The plant has pinkish stems and thick, fleshy leaves that give off a sticky juice when cooked, like okra does. The leaves have a bit of a sour smell to them.
In North America now, people don’t know what it is, even though they see it growing as a weed in cracks in sidewalks and pavements or in their gardens. Knowledge of it as a food has been lost.
Purslane can be eaten raw, or cooked as a vegetable. The taller one, Montia perfoliata (aka Garden or Winter Purslane), is usually always cooked as a pot herb.
Trim roots, wash and chop.
Best stored in the fridge with the stems in water, though it won’t store for more than a day before wilting.
Purslane is native to China. It was grown for food in India and the Middle East, reaching Europe in the Middle Ages. It was cultivated in Europe for hundreds of years. It was brought to the Americas by the British and Spanish colonists to grow as food. Martha Washington, in her Booke of Cookery (1749), had a recipe for “Pickled Pursland”. It fell out of favour towards the end of the 1800s.
Literature & Lore
“Even if you’ve never heard the word purslane, you probably know this plant; it’s a succulent, ground-hugging weed that seems to find a home in most vegetable gardens. In Italy, France, and other European countries, it’s also a well-loved vegetable. Frankly, I don’t much like the invasive form of purslane. Better, I think, are the upright, thick-stalked varieties whose seeds are available from catalogs. These purslanes are tart and crunchy, and they are said to be excellent sources of vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. Popular in eighteenth-century England and America, pickled purslane deserves to come back in style. Don’t discard the leaves — they’re very good in salads.” Ziedrich, Linda. The Joy of Pickling. Boston, Massachusetts: The Harvard Common Press. 2009. Page 126.
“To pickle Purslain Stalks: – -Wash your stalks, and cut them in pieces six inches long; boil them in water and salt a dozen walms*; take them up, drain them, and when they cool, make a pickle of stale beer, white-wine vinegar, and salt, put them in, and cover them close.”  William Carew Hazlitt (1834 to 1913). Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine. London: The Book-Lover’s Library. 1902.
* [ed. a walm being a single surge of boiling water, ergo “boil for a few seconds”, just enough to lightly blanch.]
The Latin scientific name derives from the Latin word “portulaca”, meaning Little Door, on account of how it opens up as it grows.